WASHINGTON, D.C. -- February 26, 2007 -- Two weeks after the introduction of legislation to grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory authority over tobacco products, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for February 27. HELP Committee Chairman and a lead sponsor of the legislation, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), has asked the American Cancer Society’s President-elect, Elmer Huerta, MD, to testify about the effect of tobacco use and industry marketing tactics on disparate populations.
Huerta is director of the Cancer Preventorium at the Washington Cancer Institute at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. The clinic, which he founded in 1994, accepts low-income people for chronic disease prevention and screening. Huerta is also President and Founder of Prevención, Inc., a non-profit company dedicated to the production and dissemination of educational materials about chronic disease prevention for the Latino community in the United States (www.prevencion.org).
The “Family Smoking Prevention Tobacco Control Act” (S. 625/H.R. 1108), was introduced February 15 by Sens. Kennedy and John Cornyn (R-TX) and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Tom Davis (R-VA). By granting the FDA the regulatory oversight over tobacco products, this legislation would do the following:
- Restrict tobacco advertising and promotions, especially to children.
- Stop illegal sales of tobacco products to children.
- Ban candy-flavored cigarettes, which clearly are starter products for young new smokers.
- Require changes in tobacco products, such as the removal of harmful ingredients or the reduction of nicotine levels.
- Prohibit health claims about so-called "reduced risk" products that are not scientifically proven or that would discourage current tobacco users from quitting or encourage new users to start.
- Require tobacco companies to disclose the contents of tobacco products, changes to their products and research about the health effects of their products.
- Require larger and more informative health warnings on tobacco products.
- Prohibit terms such as "light," "mild" and "low-tar" that have mislead consumers into believing that certain cigarettes are safer than others.
Dr. Huerta is well-known for his efforts to educate the Hispanic community on health issues through the media. Along with broadcasting an acclaimed radio program, “Cuidando su Salud” (Taking Care of Your Health), which airs across the United States and in Puerto Rico, Dr. Huerta serves as an expert medical commentator for CNN Radio Noticias, Radio Bilingue, Univision, Telemundo, CNN en Español, and CBS Telenoticias.
“With over twenty-five years of experience in patient care and an unparalleled understanding of the health issues facing minority populations, Dr. Huerta is exceptionally qualified to discuss the impact that tobacco has on the underserved,” said Daniel E. Smith, president, American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM. “His perspective is critical to the debate around granting the FDA authority over tobacco.”
Inequalities in health care remain a major problem in the United States. Lowincome populations and minority groups have limited access to health care and are thus more likely to receive late diagnoses. Social inequalities, such as racial discrimination, can also affect interactions between patient and physician and contribute to miscommunication or the delivery of substandard care. The correlation between higher rates of smoking and socioeconomic status is clear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 32.9 percent of adults living below the poverty line smoke compared with 22.2 percent of adults living at or above the poverty line smoking.
“The American Cancer Society is deeply committed to closing the gaps in our nation’s health care system and we know that one place that we can make real progress is by eradicating tobacco use and ensuring that tobacco companies are no longer targeting minority communities with their promotional campaigns, ”Huerta said. “This legislation presents our country with an historic opportunity to protect all Americans from tobacco addiction and this legislation will be a crucial step towards reducing health care disparities, as tobacco-related cancers remain disproportionately high among lowerincome and minority communities.”
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans each year. The impact of tobacco use is exacerbated among disparate populations. In recent decades, the tobacco industry has heavily targeted the underserved in their campaigns. Overall smoking among African-American youths, for instance, has increased since the early 1990s. In addition, an estimated 1.6 million black Americans now under the age of 18 will become regular smokers; about 500,000 of these will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease. Smoking is known to cause cancers of the lung, larynx, oral cavity, and esophagus, and is also a contributing cause to cancers of the bladder, pancreas, uterus, cervix, kidney and stomach. In 2007, 1.4 millions Americans will be diagnosed with cancer and 559,650 will die from the disease.
The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. Founded in 1913 and with national headquarters in Atlanta, the Society has 13 regional Divisions and local offices in 3,400 communities, involving millions of volunteers across the United States. For more information anytime, call toll free 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.
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